The city of Novato said Monday that it reached an out-of-court settlement worth $675,000 with the parents of 9-year-old Melody Osheroff, who was struck and killed by a drunk motorcyclist while crossing San Marin Drive in 2009.
As part of the deal, the city assumed no responsibility for the fatal incident and continues to place blame on Edward Schaefer, the Novato man who rode through a stop sign at about 60 mph and struck Melody and her father, Aaron Osheroff, who sustained serious injuries.
Also, a memorial will be installed to honor Melody at a city park, the city said.
“We are glad to have reached agreement with the Osheroff family,” City Manager Michael Frank said in a statement. “We understand that the Osheroffs will never recover from this tragic loss, but we hope with the installation of a memorial the community will have an opportunity to continue to honor Melody.”
Aaron Osheroff, who had a leg amputated and early lost his other leg as a result of the crash, filed a civil lawsuit against the city along with his wife, Kim. They contended that the city should have had a crosswalk on the eastern side of the intersection of San Marin Drive and San Carlos Way. It was later added, giving the intersection a four-way crosswalk.
"I believe we would have a better chance at the other crosswalk, which they added after the fact," he said Monday.
The Osheroffs' attorney, Walter Walker, told the Marin Independent Journal that the family's contention was that the line of sight was obscured for pedestrians using the one marked crosswalk available for people crossing San Marin Drive at that intersection.
"The city of Novato is to be commended for undertaking changes designed to improve the intersection for its citizens," Walker, with the firm Walker, Hamilton and Koenig, told the IJ.
Osheroff worked with then-Assemblyman Jared Huffman and Marin County Supervisor Judy Arnold on legislation to deter repeat DUI offenders from driving. The law would have prevented anyone with three convictions from owning or registering a car and would permanently revoke that person's license. "Melody's Law" didn't get through the state's safety committee, but another less-strict law did.
Osheroff said the city and state still need to figure out ways to protect people on its residential streets.
"If our government is going to allow drunk or reckless drivers on the road, pedestrians need the best possible chance to avoid them," he said.
Schaefer was convicted of second-degree murder and other charges, sent to San Quentin State Prison for 24 years to life, and was subsequently stabbed to death by another inmate within days of his arrival. However, the Schaefer estate had minimal assets, so the city of Novato was at risk of paying nearly all of Aaron Osheroff’s economic damages — including past and future medical bills and past and future wage loss — even if the city was found minimally at fault, according to the city.
Based on evidence presented by the Osheroffs, the potential exposure to the city was several million dollars, the city said.
Two weeks after Melody died, the city hosted a community workshop to discuss pedestrian safety. Public works director Glenn Young, now retired, said adding warning reflectors onto the pavement or flashing signs would irritate neighbors and speed bumps would be opposed by first-responders who would have to slow down during emergency calls. Most at the workshop agreed that spending upwards of $400,000 for a stoplight would not add to pedestrian safety because green lights might encourage speeders.
About a month later, the city painted the fourth crosswalk in the intersection. Then-Councilwoman Carole Dillon-Knutson, who lives a block north of the intersection, said at the time that the community had been looking at that option for quite a while to make crossing easier.
Osheroff said the city ought to investigate some form of speed deterrents or even intentional curves added to some roads, such as the jogs that were installed three years ago on Eucalyptus Avenue during a repaving project.
"If we're going to have drivers in Novato who blow through stop signs drunk or blowing down Sutro Avenue at 80 mph drunk, perhaps the city engineers need to consider some physical deterrent such as what they have on Eucalyptus Avenue," Osheroff said.
In September, a state appeals court reversed a $1.4 million restitution award to the Osheroffs and said it should have been vacated along with Schaefer's convictions when he was killed because his court appeals could no longer move forward.
The city of Novato had asked a Marin judge to toss out the civil case, but it was denied.
In February 2012, Frank Souza pleaded guilty to the first-degree murder of Schaefer in the prison's exercise yard on July 26, 2010, two weeks after Schaefer started serving his sentence.
The Novato Police Department has prioritized drunken driving enforcement the past three years and recently set a modern-day record for most DUI arrests in a one-month span. Officers have received advanced training in the detection of alcohol- and drug-impaired driving.
“Novato is a zero-tolerance community when it comes to impaired driving and we continue to be vigilant with our DUI enforcement efforts,” Frank said.